Classical Guitar: Interview with Julia Mansfield

Hello Musicians! We are celebrating Guitar Month here on the MTRC! Guitar is such a classic instrument for Music Therapists. It’s portable and accessible and easily relatable to therapists and clients, it is a huge part of our training curriculum as well as continuing education and growth as professionals, and its uses are widespread across genres and eras of music. So today we are going to explore a particular type of guitar, sharing some insight from a professional who entered our field with the Classical Guitar as her primary instrument of study.

Julia M Headshot

Julia Mansfield, MT-BC, attended Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music in Berea Ohio from 2009 – 2013 to earn a degree in Music Therapy. She completed her internship at the State Forensic Hospital in Atascadero CA, after which she sat for her certification exam and was hired for a full time position with the same facility.

Julia’s musical journey is somewhat unique in that she began studying music later in life than the typical classical musician. She learned some basic piano at home and some saxophone in Elementary school. It wasn’t until age 12/13 that Julia began playing the guitar at a functional level. “As a young preteen, I think I wanted to sing in a band. So I figured guitar would help me contribute more musical skill.” But as she started to learn and play more on the guitar, she realized it was her main musical interest. Around age 15, Julia started researchingh traditional guitar techniques and history out of curiosity and because of her natural academic drive.

Julia was led to pursue Music Therapy in college because of her growing love for music and interest in the fields of Anatomy and Psychology. This decision inspired serious classical guitar study in order to prepare for a conservatory music audition. “It was difficult entering a music conservatory as a self-taught musician. My instructors had to totally revamp my technique and everything I had mistaught myself.” Fortunately, Julia’s academic ambition and motivation to pursue her passions enabled her to jump right into the world of classical music and soak up everything college could offer. Since Julia had imagined her career path as a Pathologist or a Coroner, her developing skills and interests in music have been somewhat of a surprise to her. But they have provided amazing insight to her inner identity. “I don’t think I knew before college that music was apart of who i am. But I became a music therapist and now I realize that’s perfect for me.”

Clinical Work
Julia’s professional responsibilities at the State Hospital involve working mostly with groups as a Rehabilitation Therapist, along with the Recreational, Art, and Dance Therapists.  Her unit has 46 – 53 patients with a 1:35 ratio of therapist:patients.  Along with clinical hours, her time is filled with meetings, team conferences, continuing education, and communication with other professionals.

Julia Mansfield

Fortunately, Julia’s primary instrument of study is extremely valuable in a clinical setting. “I use Classical Guitar a lot in my work because I have a relaxation group on Wednesday nights where I will use guitar frequently. I also have a pain management group where I will use Classical Guitar and a lot of music meditation.” The Classical Guitar is extremely useful in Julia’s work because of the population she serves: adult men. In different clinical settings it may not be as appropriate. “My population includes a large demographic of Mexicans, who identify with the classical guitar because it is a significant part of their culture.”

Since Julia’s formal study of guitar began in college, I was curious to know how she has continued that study as a working professional.

Julia has been able to participate in master classes for a guitar festival in San Luis Obispo, as well as perform open mics and small gigs around town. Julia also volunteers at a jail teaching a guitar class to the inmates. She gets opportunities to “jam” with some of the 12 other music therapists employed by the hospital. “Practicing my instrument is so different as a Music Therapist. I still work on pieces sometimes, but I practice improvising more because it is a more valuable skill for me at this time.” Even though she is not spending ample amounts of time stunning her patients with Bach’s Lute Suites, Julia’s Classical Guitar studies show in her professional life every day. Your musical background effects not only your repertoire, but your musical voice as well.  “When i improvise, it sounds a lot different than my colleagues who have different instrumental backgrounds. Even if I am improvising on a Blues scale, my music always sounds like I’m sitting at the bottom of a hill in Spain somewhere. Your musical personality, and voice in a piece, is different depending on what you have studied.”  Julia’s level of involvement in the Classical Music world comes in waves according to her time and opportunities. “When you are not in college, you pick up other hobbies that you didn’t know you had interest in. I find that I now have time for other things besides practicing and studying”. Julia also spends her free time practicing Yoga, Moi Tai, volunteering in the community, exploring California, all while developing a more diverse level of musical abilities and knowledge. “My classical music skills are not as well in shape as they used to be, but being a music therapist evolves you as a musician because you are learning so much all the time.”  

As a classical guitarist, using the instrument in a variety of clinical ways, I asked Julia if she thought traditional classical guitar should be a part of college Music Therapy curriculums. After much discussion about the usefulness of the instrument, Julia concluded that it would not be the most beneficial focus for every Music Therapy student. “It would be ideal, but realistically, not every beginner Music Therapy student has the ability to study the classical guitar. It is important to get those functional guitar skills down first. But if you are looking for further musical study, the classical guitar (or piano, too) would be well worth the time.”

Things to keep in mind for beginners:
The Classical Guitar is a sensitive instrument. Stylistically, there is a whole different way to hold it when playing, allowing you to reach more, the picking style is different, and the technique you learn dictates the sound, timbre, and quality of the music.

“Being a classical guitarist, I tend to be very particular about how people play things. But if you have already gone to school for music, you could teach yourself very basic classical pieces.” Having said that, Julia stressed the importance of taking the time to learn good technique and studying the nature and voice of the instrument, because that’s really where the beauty lies. “If you have a musical education, you can figure out how to whale out a tune on a guitar, but i would recommend trying to be respectful to the history and integrity of the instrument. Within therapy, I feel like a big advantage for me as a guitar player is that I feel a connection with the instrument I’m using. You’ll connect more with your patients if your musical product is personal. It’s the same as when you are performing and trying to connect your audience with the musical that you are producing. That’s what makes us different than just playing the radio. It’s important for us to continue striving to reach a higher level of music. You don’t have to be an amazing performer to play live music that connects with a patient.”

Julia recommends Aaron Sheer beginner books for anyone interested in self-studying the Classical Guitar.

For relaxation purposes, the simpler the better.
These pieces can be very accessible to a beginner player.

  1. Lagrima – Francisco Terrega
    short, with repeats makes it great for a relaxation session
  2. Spanish Ballade/Romantico in Em by Anonymous – this piece has a repetative picking pattern the whole time and is easy to play. It can often be found on classical guitar or relaxation CDs.
  3. Many studies by Carcassi, Juliani, Caruli, are very accessible and relaxing in keys people would be comfortable playing in

Classical Guitar Recordings a Music Therapist can incorporate into sessions immediately

  1. Recuerdos de Allandra by Rodrigo
  2. Bach Lute Suites
  3. Transcriptions of Bach’s Cello suites played on Guitar
  4. Villo Lobos – 4th prelude and 1st
  5. Una limosna por el amor de dios – Barrios

Professional Goals:
Julia is planning on staying at her facility for at least 3 more years. Among her many interests for her future, Julia might pursue a Masters to achieve a Counseling degree, then open a private practice offering services in both counseling and music therapy. However, this plan depends on deciding which state she will commit to permanent residence in.

Julia is in a really great place right now where she has a steady full time job doing something that holds her interest and offers stimulating challenge to her growth as a professional. She has many doors to choose from for her future, and is taking the time to explore her interests and talents in a place that is new to her. .

I am looking forward to hearing what direction Julia’s career takes her in life!

P.s. I may be somewhat biased when it comes to this particular professional. We may have been roommates in college.Julia and Catherine






If you would like to check out some of her playing, you can head on over to her YouTube channel. If you have any questions for Julia about Classical Guitar, Music Therapy, or life in California, send us your email address and we can forward your information to her.


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